Jennifer and Vishvesh,
Labeling Hamlet as "indecisive" is too vague and general to be valid, I would
agree with you both there. To leave it at that reduces him to a single representative
state of mind, and he's more complex than that. However, the most famous soliloquy indicates a
moment of indecision that (owing I think to the ubiquity of
that scene at 3:1) becomes an umbrella for his character, his flaw, his mode of
operating. The "to be or not to be" speech shows a moment of indecision about
suicide or facing the "oppressors wrong, the proud man's contumely,/ the pangs of
disprized love, the law's delay,/ the insolence of office, and the spurns/ that
patient merit of th' unworthy takes,"(3.1, 72-5)--here I read the alternative
to suicide as a world of trouble where H. either puts up with life as it is with
Claudius or kills him (both of the later options will bring about elements of the
catalogue of woes quoted above). It is also worth noting that Hamlet seems to
decide on the play within play that actually brings about his death at 2.2 (to
get the reaction from Claudius that will prove he has killed Hamlet's father and
therefore give him the proof he needs to kill Claudius) . So in the scene
just before the "to be" speech, Hamlet seems to have made up his mind on a course
of action that will resolve the problem of what to do about his father's death and
how to verify Claudius' guilt so he can justifiably kill the new king, then looks
briefly for other options, not unlike Christ's momentary doubts about his course
of action in Gesthemene. Obviously, this indecision is a momentary wavering
only. We can't call Christ or Hamlet "indecisive" as character types.
Hamlet does decide to go through with the plan he conceives at the end of
2.2: "I'll have grounds/ more relative than this [the specter that may be devil
or father]. The play's the thing/ wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King."
(2.2, 604-6). He seems to have decided, but then contemplates suicide in 3.1
only to abandon that thought. I have seen versions of the play where the 3.1
soliloquy is a ruse--part of Hamlet's "mad act"--but I've seen others that play
this scene as a genuine contemplation of death as another course of action than
finding out the truth about Claudius and killing him if he is indeed guilty of
murdering Hamlet's father. I tend to see it as a moment of indecision before he
finally "makes his move." It does not justify the label for all of Hamlet's behavior
as indecisive--that expands one scene to describe the entirety of H's actions and
character, and there are more things in both than are dreamt of in that philosophy.
As to Prufrock's in/decisiveness that Jennifer calls into question, I feel that's
part of what the text of the poem cleverly hints at, but never fully answers:
the speaker has moments of "decisions and revisions which [subsequent] minutes
will reverse"--he seems pretty indecisive at times--like the Hamlet he is at pains
to say he is so unlike! My question: is part of the significance of the poem a complex of quandaries
about what he might "dare" to do, what he might "presume," whether he should "begin" or "say" or
"force [any moment] to its crisis"--all initiative, any catalyzing action, seems to be the speaker's
crisis of indecision. Should he or shouldn't he budge an inch? Won't that disturb the
universe--perhaps for the worse and irreversibly? I think, Jennifer, you are squarely on the money
to search the poem and ask indecision about what, but not because there is no
indecision, rather because there's so much indecision that the speaker cannot
clearly articulate a concrete example or object for that indecision. He cannot
speak it into being.
As if I hadn't gone on too long already, I'd ask all posters to look again at
Hamlet for reference to the fool (with all due respect for those who see a shift
HAMLET [to Ophelia] ....Where' your father?
OPHELIA At home, my Lord.
HAMLET Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may
play the fool nowhere but in 's own house. Farewell.
OPHELIA O, help him, you sweet heavens!
HAMLET If thou dost marry, I'll give thee this plague for
thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow,
thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery,
farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool,
for wise men know well enough what monsters you
make of them. To a nunnery go, and quickly too. Farewell.
(3.1, 131-41) --right after the "to be" business echoed by
Prufrock's ironic "nor was meant to be"
Significant? I'll leave it to the "board" to decide!
Vishvesh Obla wrote:
> Dear Jennifer,
> “My second point is about the propagation of the idea
> that Hamlet is indecisive, which has appeared in
> several posts. What evidence to support such a claim?
> It seems to me that Hamlet has sure enough made up his
> mind; the problem is rather than he cannot act on his
> decision. To be indecisive and to be incapable of
> action are not the same. Hamlet's mind is made up on
> one thing--Claudius--before he even sees the ghost.”
> That was very impressive. Hamlet, I understand, is a
> very intelligent character unlike Prufrock who seems
> to be a surreal kind of a person. If Hamlet
> hesitates, I think it is because he knows how powerful
> and clever Claudius is. I feel that Hamlet ought to
> be seen (as any dramatic character should be) from the
> play’s perspective; confusions as to his ‘madness’ and
> ‘procrastination’ arise when we look outward of it.
> (In fact, one can point out many ‘evidences’ for it
> when one misreads the play). Hamlet is controlled by
> the conditions of the play and it makes saner reading
> to read the play in its context.
> In Prufrock, Eliot consciously tried to portray a
> muddled up personality, to express a typical state of
> mind of the modern age, and I don’t see anything
> remarkable to compare him with Hamlet.
> --- Jennifer Formichelli <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> > Dear Listers,
> > I have two points upon this thread. First, Michael,
> > in response to
> > Ninodeluz:
> > > Don't forget, Hamy calls Polonius a fool,
> > > Prufrock calls himself ALMOST a fool.
> > >
> > >
> > > This is because Prufrock is switching from Hamlet
> > to Lear. . .
> > > Michael
> > I should very much like to know where Lear calls
> > himself a fool. This
> > seems to me rather unlikely. The fool nearly
> > outright calls him a fool,
> > and Lear threatens him with a whip; his speech to
> > Gloucester about 'the
> > great stage of fools' does not appear to include
> > either of them; and
> > even in his apology to Cordelia he does no such
> > thing. Anyone
> > interested might read Empon's excellent essay, in
> > Structure of Complex
> > Words, called 'Fool in Lear'.
> > My second point is about the propagation of the idea
> > that Hamlet is
> > indecisive, which has appeared in several posts.
> > What evidence to
> > support such a claim? It seems to me that Hamlet has
> > sure enough made
> > up his mind; the problem is rather than he cannot
> > act on his decision.
> > To be indecisive and to be incapable of action are
> > not the same.
> > Hamlet's mind is made up on one
> > thing--Claudius--before he even sees
> > the ghost. Hearing the tale of his father's murder,
> > he replies: 'Oh my
> > prophetic soul. My uncle!'
> > And for that matter, if J. Alfred Prufrock
> > (presuming that he is the
> > speaker of the poem, which is not completely clear)
> > is indecisive, I
> > should like to know about what.
> > Yours, Jennifer
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